interviews

Yamina Bachir Chouikh

The opposition to radical Islam

The director talks of terrorism and fundamentalism in her debut film: “I also show the courage and the moral strength of the women in my country.”

A young elementary school teacher is stopped on the street by a group of terrorists. They want to give her a parcel bomb to leave and explode inside the school. We’re in Algeria and the bloody battle is raging between Islamic Fundamentalists and the lay government. The population is the one that pays the price in this conflict.
The schoolteacher refuses to take the device and the boys, her former pupils, shoot her in the abdomen. Now the story moves in two directions: 1) the schoolteacher falls to the ground and immediately afterwards the bomb explodes, killing her; 2) the bomb is defused, the schoolteacher receives immediate medical treatment and is saved. This is the difference between reality and the cinema. It’s the difference between the things that happen one morning in Algeria and those things which the debutant Algerian director Yamina Bachir Chouikh decided to show in her film, Rachida.

It’s a tragic story, even if it is full of hope. The desperation and the fear contrast with the moral strength of the courageous women who don’t bow their heads in a sign of surrender. And then there are the children to represent the future of a country that seems to have managed to overcome an incredible wave of terror only over the last year.

What was the reaction to the film in Algeria?
"The film was well received. Many cinemas that had been closed for 15 years re-opened specially for the occasion. Whole families went to the cinema together to see Rachida. This is a sign that the population are interested and sensitive when faced with certain subjects. Most Algerian women are like the protagonist in the film: they have the same courage and civil commitment. Unfortunately the horrors of terrorism turn the victims into mere numbers for the statistics. Through the story of Rachida and the people who are around her, I tried to bring the real daily life of Algerians back to the forefront, especially the lives of the victims of terrorism".

What problems did you have to face to make this film?
"In Algeria the real obstacle is an economic one. Censorship doesn’t exist in my country, so all the difficulties are centred on the search for funding. At the start, I put my project to the Ministry of Culture and Communications. The reply was positive. So, I started to write the screenplay and the dialogue. When it came down to asking for money, the Minister told me that funding was for cultural projects, there was no money for financing the film. At that stage I manage to get support from Arte and other French cinematographic institutions. In France there is funding that favours works made in countries bordering the Mediterranean. Then, in addition, I also benefited from the fact that my film was a first work. In this way, together with the collaboration of some of my women friends, I managed to finish the work. The cast is made up of a lot of non-professional actors, and I also did the editing myself".

Any plans for the future?
"I’d like to make more light-hearted films. But the current reality forces me to make social protest works. In spite of the pact of harmony between the State and the population, Algeria is a country that is still full of profound contradictions. We’re still a long way off from a definitive solution to the problems, and the current war in Iraq certainly doesn’t help to keep a political balance, which is already unstable as it is".

Camillo De Marco